NORMAN GILLER remembers Sir Stanley Rous, the patrician football administrator who not only kept to the rules, but wrote them as well
Martin Samuel, the SJA’s Sportswriter of the Year, can always be trusted to come up with an intro to make your eyes pop. He had Septic Bladder in his sights this week with this blistering opinion in his Daily Mail column.
It is a pity Sepp Blatter is not a real president. If he was a real president we could have him shot. Oh, come on. They got to Abraham Lincoln and JFK, didn’t they? So don’t kid yourselves it doesn’t happen.
I cannot think of any sportswriter, past or present, who would have come up with something that powerful or impertinent.
Mind you, “back in my day” FIFA was in British hands, and we only looked to pat on the back, rather than knife, the then president, Sir Stanley Rous.
Rous and Blatter were about as alike as Swiss cheese and English cheddar. Rous was a 6ft 3in mountain of Victorian discipline and values. A former top-flight referee, he looked like Alfred Hitchcock but with an Anthony Eden moustache, and could be pompous to the point of the preposterous.
You did not interview him as much as sit at his feet and be treated to a series of bon mots, and if you tried to ask an awkward question he would swat it aside as if disciplining a child.
I once asked him if he had ever been offered a bribe, “A bribe? A bribe?!” he retorted as if playing the role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. “Anybody offering me a bribe would be very foolish. They would never be involved in football again.
“In South America I was once asked by an ambitious football club official what it would cost to get on to the Fifa committee. I told him his £200 fare to Zurich and the support of at least 60 per cent of the delegates.”
Rous refereed the 1934 FA Cup final, and in 1938 he rewrote many of the Laws of the game, making him one of the most influential people in the history of football. It was Rous who introduced the diagonal refereeing system, so that the man in the middle always had the linesmen in his eyeline. He was FIFA president from 1961 to 1974 after 32 years as the FA secretary.
Rous brought England back into the FIFA fold in 1948 after the wilderness years caused by a dispute over foreign teams paying what were known as “broken-time payments”. He gave more to the game than Blatter will ever be able to give, and he would definitely have had the vision to introduce goal-line technology.
A former schoolteacher, his proudest day came when England won the World Cup in 1966 while he was in charge. Though aristocratic in his bearing, Sir Stanley was always aware – and somebody should tell Septic this – that football belongs to the people. Rous once famously said in the 1950s: “If this can be termed the century of the common man, then soccer, of all sports, is surely his game.”
Rous was a brilliant politician, diplomat and administrator, but he had one major blind spot. A dedicated colonialist, he allowed South Africa to field all-white international teams in the toxic era of Apartheid. It helped bring his downfall when Brazilian Joäo Havelange won a power struggle in 1974.
Havelange was Blatter’s predecessor, and anybody who thinks corruption in the dysfunctional FIFA “family” started with Septic should read the book by that Rotweiller of an investigative reporter, Andrew Jennings, in which he implicated Havelange in a cash-for-contracts scandal. Published in 2006, the book is called Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals.
Only in the past couple of weeks has Jennings reported court proceedings from Switzerland that underpin the Havelange allegations in the book, which is a must read for any reporter who needs a finger on the pulse of international football.
I can’t leave Stanley Rous without telling a tale out of school about one of our great sports journalists, Jeff Powell. Just off the Daily Mail subs desk and full of running and ideas, “Jeff the Lad” was with the Daily Mirror’s brilliant reporter Harry Miller and I at Heathrow waiting for a flight to Milan.
As we were standing waiting to embark, I winked at Harry and said, “Look, there’s Sir Stanley Rous. I wonder what he’s doing going to Milan?”
Harry took my lead, and said: “He’s a bit of a tyrant, and won’t take kindly to us approaching him at an airport.”
“Leave it to me,” said Jeff, swallowing the bait.
Going bravely where the bold dare not go, he approached the man I had pointed to and held out his hand. “Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail, Sir Stanley,” he said. “Can I be inquisitive and ask why you are going to Milan?”
He was then involved for five minutes in friendly conversation with an American, who had no idea what Jeff was talking about but politely went along with his questions. It dawned on Jeff within 20 seconds that we had conned him, but to his credit he chatted away as if it was the norm for him to speak to complete strangers.
I knew from that moment that Jeff the Lad would never make it as a major sportswriter.
Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here
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